Montana Governor Steve Bullock didn’t make the debates but he’s making it to North Carolina. Bullock will be here two weeks from today for an event hosted by former Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Brad Wilson and his wife Carole. He was one of the last candidates to join the field of 23 and among the first of the candidates who almost certainly will flood the state over the next year and a half. 

Bullock has made news this week because he’s been denied a slot in the DNC debates later this month. The DNC says he didn’t make the stage because he failed to reach a threshold of either 65,000 individual donors or having at least 1% in three DNC approved polls. Bullock pushed back against the seemingly arbitrary rules saying he had to govern before getting into the race and hasn’t had time to reach the thresholds. Bullock expanded Medicaid in Montana by cutting a deal with the GOP legislature and stayed out of the race so he didn’t jeopardize the agreement.

Bullock may have gotten as much publicity this week as would have gotten on a stage with 20 people trying to answer what are likely to be mundane questions. Bullock turned the snub into a round of cable news hits and pundits came to his defense, criticizing the DNC for keeping a successful governor off the stage while inviting a bunch of also-rans. He released a video of a woman who benefitted from his Medicaid expansion who begins the ad saying Governor Bullock didn’t make the debate because of me. It’s a good spot, but now he’ll need to leverage that notoriety to get even more attention.

Bullock argues that he can win because he knows how to talk to voters of all persuasions and he knows how to get progressive legislation through a conservative legislative body. He won re-election at the same time Donald Trump was carrying Montana by a large margin. In addition to Medicaid expansion, he passed tough campaign finance reform measures, protected LGBTQ rights, fought the opioid crisis and oversaw a booming economy. 

Bullock’s message is inclusive. He says he got elected with support of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. He believes it’s possible to govern with a divided government and says his tenure as Montana’s chief executive is proof. Bullock argues that he’s maintained his progressive credentials while staying popular with people across party lines. 

Bullock has a resume and track record that in another year would likely put him in the top tier of candidates. However, he got in late in a field of stars. He’s got to push his way into the front if he wants to compete. His lane in this primary is Biden’s lane, arguing that the key to getting success is building unity, not pushing a transformative agenda. 

To get the traction he needs, Bullocks’s got to take advantage of the former vice-president’s missteps and make the case that he’s a better messenger and candidate for bridging the gap that divides our country. But he’s got competition just to reach that spot from the likes of Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. He’ll have to figure out how distinguish himself in a very crowded field with a dwindling campaign clock. However, he turned the debate snub into an earned media opportunity. That shows he’s at least got a team that’s up to the task if it’s possible. 


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